Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sgto. Slaughter - Argentine Exclusive

It seems Sgt. Slaughter really clicked either with Hasbro executives of the time or with buyers of G.I. Joe toys in the late '80's.  For a celebrity endorser, Slaughter had 4 versions of his figure released in 3 years.  Not even Snake Eyes could boast that many releases in so short a period in the vintage line.  In modern times, Slaughter has retained his notoriety.  His appearance at G.I. Joe Conventions and his inclusion in the modern line shows that his popularity among Joe collectors remains very high.  Lost in Sarge's promotion of the property, though, is the fact that his figure also saw release in 3 foreign countries: Brazil, Argentina and India.  That either speaks to the global popularity of the man and his character or to the fact that Hasbro's foreign licensees didn't worry as much about character as they did about molds to release to their native customer bases.  Of these three foreign releases, the Plastirama Sgto. Slaughter is the easiest to find, but a very nice figure in its own right.

As a kid, I didn't have much knowledge of Sgt. Slaughter as a wrestler.  When he first appeared in the G.I. Joe materials at the time, I didn't even know who he was.  But, a few hours with my cousin and his pile of wresting magazines in the spring of 1986 quickly changed that.  By then, though, Sgt. Slaughter had already been part of my collection for so long that I had was ingrained with my own characterization of him rather than his wresting persona.  This helped make Slaughter's figures (first his mail away version and later the Triple T version) more vital parts of my collection than they would have been had I been more aware of the existing character.

My use of Sgt. Slaughter was almost solely based upon his appearance in the Marvel comics.  There, Slaughter was a kick ass combatant with no reference to his real world occupation.  I thought that Larry Hama did an excellent job integrating a character like this (likely at Hasbro's insistence) into his Joe world without sacrificing the quality of the stories.  While the V1 Sgt. Slaughter had been in my collection first, it was the second version (Available in the U.S. only with his TTT vehicle.) that found the greatest use in my childhood Joe world.  Here, armed with Rock and Roll's M-60, Slaughter ruled from the gunner's station of the Havoc.  He lead various convoys and was often in the thick of fighting.  But, like many toys in my childhood collection, Slaughter's relevance soon faded.  As the 1987 figures entered my world, older figures like Slaughter found themselves replaced.  After about a 6 month run, Slaughter became just another piece of cannon fodder who manned my Joe HQ.

Today, though, I really can't see the figure as anything other than a celebrity endorser of the line.  My adult brain simply can't get past the fact that this is a real person (albeit playing a character) who was injected into the mythos.  That does not, though, take away from the quality of the figures.  Really, the likeness of Slaughter captured in 1986 era sculpting technology is very well done.  Beyond that, the tank top is a bit much.  But, the extra muscles sculpted into the arms helps give the figure more realism that was missing from the line just 3 years earlier when Gung Ho was released.  The Slaughter figure seems taller than most of his contemporaries and that helps make the character larger than life.  It helps the figure stand out, even if that extra height also makes him harder to use in vehicles.

This Plastirama Sgto. Slaughter is based on the V2 Slaughter figure from the Hasbro line.  The colors are very similar, though not the same.  The skin tone is much more pink (as is common for many Plastirama figures).  But, the overall figure is nicely painted with different shades of greens, the black shirt, silver sunglasses and a golden Sargent's Insignia on his hat.  (As this is a Plastirama figure, though, there will tend to be some factory paint overspray on the details.  But, it's not as pronounced as that which was seen on figures produced by Funskool in the early 2000's.)  The green cammo is gone from Slaughter's pants and replaced with a solid green.  The wristbands on the Argentine figure are unpainted and it is likely that the paint masks used to create this figure are actually from the Slaughter's Marauders version that had been released by Estrela in Brazil.  But, the result is a figure that is very militaristic in color and feel.  You can actually put this figure into a forest of jungle diorama and he will fit right in with other Joes of that specialty.

The inclusion of Sgt. Slaughter in the Plastirama line doesn't make much sense.  The figures released in Argentina are almost exclusively molds from 1982 through 1985.  The only figures from after that time are this Sgt. Slaughter and Crazylegs.  How these two molds ended up in Argentina is very much speculative.  But, Slaughter and Crazylegs stand out for that reason.  The rest of the Plastirama line is strictly 1982 through 1985.  But, the Argentine vehicles did use many more molds that ranged from 1982 all the way through 1988.  It could be that Slaughter's character and the WWF were popular enough in Argentina at the time to make his inclusion worthwhile.  But, we'll likely never know the full reasoning behind what was and what was not released in Argentina.

The Sgt. Slaughter mold was the quite the world traveler.  After the 2 initial releases in the U.S., the mold was sent to South America.  It is likely that it went first to Estrela who produced Slaughter in his Slaughter's Marauders colors.  Estrela also produced the same figure for release in the U.S. for the Slaughter's Marauders subteam in 1989.  It is likely that Plastirama acquired the mold after Estrela and produced this Sgt. Slaughter.  But, it is possible that the timeline was reversed.  Regardless, the mold left South America and ultimately ended up in India where Funskool produced a figure named Sgt. Smasher that was very similar to the Plastirama and V2 Hasbro figure.  Also, during the mold's time in India, Funskool used the head for the remarkable Supercop figure.  After this, the mold went MIA.  Based on the timeline of the figure's release in India, it is plausible that Hasbro re-acquired the mold in the late 1990's.  But, it was either damaged beyond use upon arrival or was subsequently lost.  In total, the mold produced 6 figures, but they were basically in 3 similar color schemes.  But, since this look is solid for Slaughter and there's not much else to do with the mold, that is enough for most collectors.

Time was, this Sgto. Slaughter figure was the most common and least expensive foreign Joe available.  For years, carded versions of Slaughter would sit unsold for $3 each.  Slowly, though, the supply has dried up.  While hardly expensive today, the Slaughter figure is a bit harder to find a bit more expensive.  You can acquire a carded version of the figure for $15-$20, but may be able to get one for $10 from time to time.  If you can find a loose version, though, those typically run 1/2 the carded price.  If you are a Slaughter fan, this is a price well worth paying to get an exclusive version of the character.  If you aren't a Slaughter fan, it's still a pretty good price at which to acquire a foreign exclusive.  So, either way is a win.  I do enjoy this figure for the novelty of having an American "celebrity" released in a foreign land.  It's a fun, and inexpensive way, to enjoy something a little different in the Joe world.

Sgto. Slaughter, Sgt. Slaughter, Argentina, Plastirama, 1986, Triple T, 1993 Mail Away Interrogator

Sgto. Slaughter, Sgt. Slaughter, Argentina, Plastirama, 1986, Triple T, 2003 Mail Away BAT

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

1991 Crimson Guard Immortal

It's been 15 years since I began following the Joe collecting world online.  In that time, the sites of influence have changed greatly.  Originally, it was small, fan run sites that were the backbone of the community.  Then, message boards sprung up on licensed Joe properties and the world changed.  Then, the anniversary and the movie brought enough money into the Joe world that for profit sites have become the community du jour in the Joe world.  In the early days, though, the collecting world was rather quaint.  Digital cameras weren't really around for affordable prices, so pictures of action figures were in short supply.  As such, sites that did host diorama pictures of figures tended to have a great deal of influence.  One such site was Evilface's domain.  Here, Evilface's immortal customs served as the main attraction.  But, buried deep within the site were random diorama pictures taken with a camera.  Among these was a Cobra convoy that featured the first real online display of Cobra army building (be it ever so modest by today's standards).  Riding on the back of the HISS Tanks were Crimson Guard Immortals.  For most collectors of the time, this was their first exposure to a great figure that was actually fairly hard to find during that era.

In the late 1990's, it was easy to find all Joe figures from 1982 through 1987 online or at toy shops or shows.  1988 was fairly available, but some of the more obscure figures didn't show up all that often.  1989's were mostly only available in lots as kids from that time started to sell their childhood collections.  1990 fell into this category as well.  1991 figures, though, were extremely hard to find.  This was a combination of the fact that most of the 1991 series of figures were only produced for that one year and not carried over into 1992.  But also, those who had played with Joes during this time weren't quite old enough to have started selling their collections.  In the early days of Ebay, it was not uncommon to go two or three weeks without seeing a Crimson Guard Immortal offered for sale.  Usually, when they did appear, they were only included in large lots with other 1990, 1991 and 1992 figures.

At the time, I was heavily interested in all figures from the 1990's and was actively acquiring all the lots of figures from those years I could find.  Though that effort, I acquired 2 Crimson Guard Immortals.  The fact that I had a pair of the figures, along with the fact that others were difficult to find at the time gave the figure a mystique that has lived with me in the decade and a half since.  Of course, Crimson Guard Immortals are much easier to find these days and are actually cheaper than they were in 2002 - 2005.  But, that hasn't changed the way I feel about the figure nor has it sated my desire to always have a nice cadre of Immortals in my collection.  The armored uniform makes for a perfect Crimson Guard gunner for the ASP, Hiss Tank or SMS.  The colors being true to the original CG also tie this figure into Cobra's roots and help it rise above the other army builders of the time.

As far as accessories go, the Immortal isn't great.  His weapons are interesting, but not special.  The backpack is nice as it does feature three removable missiles that fit into the guns.  The launchers are designed to be action activated by a flick of the finger.  Hitting the exposed rear of the missile will "shoot" it out of the weapon.  This type of thing is common in 1990 and 1991 and was the precursor to spring loaded weapons.  The launchers aren't great and are awkward for the figure to hold.  The ammo belt that connects to the figure's leg is neater in idea than execution and really only come across as a hindrance when you try to display the figure.  They are distinct accessories, but nothing good enough to enhance the figure.  Again, though, I go back in time to the early days of Joedom and reference Cobra Command Online.  This site was the first to really take army building to the heights that defined 2001 through 2005.  But here, amidst the dioramas of hundreds upon hundreds of 1998 TRU Vipers were random groups of Crimson Guard Immortals.  Not equipped with their standard accessories, but the gun and pack from the 1985 Crimson Guard.  This look completely changed my viewpoint on the CGI.  With these accessories from 1985, the figure became even more useful.  Now, the infantry look of the CG's original accessories were matched with a combat uniform.  The result is a great enhancement to both the weapons and the figure.

As a character, the Crimson Guard Immortal is nothing more than a Crimson Guardsman.  The filecard makes no reference to the "Immortal" in the name and adds nothing new to the character that was not introduced in 1985.  That isn't a bad thing as it leaves a lot of interpretation open for kids and collectors.  The CGI's can be just an alternate uniform for Crimson Guardsman.  Or, they could be a more militaristic branch of the elite force.  The CGI gives collectors a way to grow the CG ranks without having tons of conflicting divisions developed by different generations of Joe designers.

The Crimson Guard Immortal mold has an interesting history.  After its release in the US in 1991, the figure was also produced by Hasbro for release in Europe.  At some point, though, Hasbro co-opted the CGI head for use on the mail away 1993 Create a Cobra.  At this time, the European Crimson Guard Immortals saw a very truncated run of figures that used the Rock Viper head in lieu of the traditional CGI head.  (These are among the rarest figures in the world.  But, before you spend $400 on one, be sure to get the provenance.  The Euro CGI's with Rock Viper heads are also heavily faked out of Asia.  So, be careful when you are in the market for one.)  At some point, the figure was slated for release by Estrela in Brazil.  A figure named Flagelo appeared on Brazilian cardbacks and in the catalogs.  But, this figure was never actually released.  In 2001, the mold resurfaced in India as the highly anticipated Funskool Crimson Guard Immortal.  This figure was imported en masse to the U.S. by dealers at the time and collectors bought them by the dozens and even hundreds.  Again, though, this figure was very similar to the American version with just some minor color variances in the figure and accessories.

Hasbro reacquired the mold from Funskool in 2003.  But, in their great wisdom, never really utilized it effectively.  A Crimson Guard Immortal was released in late 2003 in a KB Toys exclusive remake of the CAT Tank.  This blue and red figure never really caught on in the collecting world.  The Tanks were eventually clearanced for below wholesale prices and large quantities of 2003 CGI's were available cheaply from Asia.  In 2005, Hasbro released a Toys R Us exclusive Crimson Guard 6 figure set.  This set featured 4 Crimson Guards, either Tomax or Xamot and...Firefly.  So, they split up Tomax ans Xamot, but left collectors to buy 2 Firefly's with their duplicate sets required to complete the Twins.  The box art, though, was suspicious and Firefly used the exact paint masks as the 2004 Urban Assault Firefly.  The implication was that Firefly was a last minute addition to the set.  A CGI would have been a perfect command figure to include.  But, the reason for that molds absence was made apparent when the 2005 Convention set was released.  The entire CGI body was used for the under appreciated Convention Destro.  After that, the mold never appeared again.  Really, there is much that could be done with the mold and released in blue, black, silver with reverse red highlights, etc. would have been gobbled up by collectors.  But, that never came to be.

The result is that the Crimson Guard Immortal retains some of his mystique.  Since the figure wasn't overused and the mold only really appeared in 2 really different varieties, the original CGI remains somewhat unspoiled.  I would have enjoyed seeing the figure redone in black with the silver highlights.  Or, in Cobra blue.  A companion figure to the Crimson Shadow Guard would have at least given us something different with the mold.  But, it was not to be.  That's OK, though, since this figure hasn't suffered from the same character degradation that occurred when Hasbro repainted the Viper and Alley Viper to death.

Today, Crimson Guard Immortal figures still command a premium.  Mint and complete with filecard, the figures run as high as $23.  Lose the filecard and you can get them for around $18, though.  Still, in this post army-building world, that's pretty steep for a later edition army builder with some limitations.  But, it is a testament to the figure's quality, its relative scarcity and its propensity for breakage that the price remains high.  (In relation to the breakage, I had crotch snap right off of the figure you see in the photo below as I was posing him for additional pictures.  So, it can happen to the best of us.)

Personally, I find the Crimson Guard Immortal to be one of my favorite army building figures.  He has the look of a commanding soldier while retaining the regalia of the Crimson Guard.  The armor is well designed and the colors are a near perfect blend of crimson and silver.  With the elite status of the Crimson Guard already established, the CGI fits perfectly into the existing Cobra hierarchy without introducing new colors or ideas.  Really, that is a great way for Hasbro to handle a new aspect of an existing faction.  As such, the Crimson Guard Immortal is one of the few figures who still exists in numbers in my collection.  For the price they fetch these days, I still feel this is a worthwhile addition to a collection.  And, going forward, it is a figure that I will continue to acquire as the opportunities to add them to my collection appear.

1991 Crimson Guard Immortal

Friday, November 30, 2012

Fumaca - Brazilian Exclusive Ripcord

Through the years, I've profiled hundreds of G.I. Joe figures.  In that time, I've hit on both major characters and minor bit players.  One niche I have found to be particularly enjoyable, though, is finding an obscure version of a major character, especially if that obscure version is from a country outside of the U.S.  Such is the case with Fumaca.  At his core, this is just Ripcord from Brazil.  But, the reality is that the figure is distinctly different from the American and Argentine releases of the mold.  The result is a figure that is extremely cool, even if he's something that, on the surface, appears to be commonplace.

Fumaca is a much deeper green and blue than the American Ripcord figure.  Really, that's his most notable difference.  But, visually, it is major as the figure is very distinct from the Hasbro released figure.  Brazilian figures have a distinct shade of green that is mostly seen on their accessories.  But, Fumaca uses that color as his base.  The darker green gives Fumaca a more visually attractive look and really draws the eye to him when displayed among his contemporaries.

Fumaca includes the full complement of Ripcord's accessories.  The helmet and mask are cast in the standard black.  The plastic is of Brazilian quality, though, and the mask tends to be a bit more fragile than the American version.  The parachute and gun, though, different shades of green.  I wrote before of a "Brazilian Green" and these accessories fall into that description.  Estrela used a specific shade of green for their figure accessories.  It is darker and deeper than the green used on 1984 American accessories.  Estrela used this color, though, on all their green accessories produced in the line.  It is the same color used for Spirit, Recondo, Hawk, Footloose and many other figures in the Estrela line.  I find this green to be much more interesting than the Hasbro green used in 1984 and it really helps to make the figures pop even beyond the slight differences in figure color.

For me, Ripcord has always been a figure whose gear made him vital to a collection.  Without the parachute and mask, Ripcord would be relatively unused as the mold, sans accessories, is somewhat bland.  But, that's the genius of the figure.  With the accessories, Ripcord is a must have.  Without them, it's a bland figure, but still good enough to keep around.  As a kid, I always had Ripcord in his full gear.  Even when part of a patrol who had miles of ground to cover, Ripcord wore his parachute and mask.  I liked the look and always felt the mask gave him an edge if Cobra dropped a gas grenade on the Joes.

The Ripcord mold got a lot of use throughout the world.  After his release in the U.S. in 1984, he was shipped of South America.  There, he was released as Fuego by Plastirama in Argentina and Fumaca in Brazil.  In Argentina, Plastirama also used the mold in tan for some versions of their Sokerk figure.  In Brazil, Estrela painted Ripcord in Python Patrol colors and released him as a Cobra named Relampago.  In 1988, Ripcord was slated to be a charter member of Tiger Force in the U.S.  Painted mock ups of the figure even appeared in advertisements for Tiger Force.  But, due to the mold's continued use in South America, Hasbro did not have the actual figure available to them.  So, Ripcord fans are treated to mostly foreign releases of the mold to sate their desires for differently painted Ripcord variants.

Fumaca's aren't terribly hard to find.  They were very common in Brazil and many survived to this day.  Getting one mint and complete, though, is a bit of a challenge.  The paint wears easily and Fumaca's thumbs are notoriously brittle.  As such, it can take some time to find a mint specimen.  But, even mint and complete with filecard Fumaca's sell for under $20.  Now, you may pay an additional $15 to ship one from Brazil.  But, the overall price isn't terrible when you consider that the figure has enough differences from the American version to be noticeable by eye alone.  Personally, I enjoy the foreign figures that are similar to their American counterparts.  They give me an opportunity to appreciate a classic mold in a slightly different way.  As the vastness of any collection grows, that is something of value.

Fumaca, Ripcord, Brazil, Estrela, 1984

Fumaca, Ripcord, Brazil, Estrela, 1984, 1993 Gold Head Steel Brigade, Mail Away, Rare G.I. joe Figures, 1983 Dragonfly

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

2006 Major Bludd - Convention Exclusive

There are many great characters in the Joe line's history.  Few, though, resonate with me as much as Major Bludd.  From the moment I first read his filecard in 1983, the character has stayed with me.  The combination of my Australian heritage, the terrible poetry and the fact that he was a mercenary with a ruthless past all added up to a character that made quite an impression on my 9 year old mind.

As such, this had lead Major Bludd to always be a major player in my collection.  The original figure always holds a place of prominence in my Joe world and is often showcased with the other major Cobras from those early years.  The subsequent U.S. released versions of Bludd aren't as iconic, but the Chinese Major Bludd has found itself a great niche in my collection as the more updated look for the Major.  This version of Major Bludd, though, isn't really in that vein.  I don't see it as an updated look for the classic character.  Instead, it is something new that denotes a new role for Major Bludd.

The mold for this figure is an interesting mix of figure parts that actually kind of works.  The head is from the 1994 Major Bludd figure.  It is a solid head that it true to the Major's roots.  Had it not been used in 2003 on the Python Patrol Major Bludd figure, it would likely have more impact on this convention version.  The rest of the figure is made of the mold from the 1989 Long Range figure.  Here, the mold choice could not be more obscure.  Long Range had not been seen for 17 years when it was dredged up for this Major Bludd version.  So, it's appearance is odd enough that the figure isn't stale.  The problem, though, is that the Long Range mold isn't the greatest.  The bizarre leggings really attract attention and often cause more questions as to their purpose than Bludd's right arm.

Of course, though, Master Collector chose to follow the lead of all Major Bludd figures other than the original by giving him 2 normal arms.  But, considering the date at which this figure was designed, that was really the only choice.  The original Bludd's armored arm is a perfect individualizing trait for the vintage figure.  But, it limited play and display options and was rightfully excluded from this incarnation of Bludd.  Overall, the look is definitely new for Bludd.  The overall figure seems somewhat skinny and tall.  (Though, with vintage molds, that's very relative.)  But, it does work for Bludd and isn't as awkward as some of the other figures released in the 2006 Convention set.

The figure's accessories are neither great nor terrible.  Cast in the now standard Convention Grey, Bludd includes 2 weapons and a figure stand.  The weapons are both molds from the JvC era of the Joe line, but are actually OK.  The Uzi is a decent pairing with Bludd and the movable stock gives the gun some character.  The other weapon isn't as great as it was designed earlier than the Uzi, but is still in scale with Bludd and does include a bi-pod that helps provide depth to the displayed figure.  A backpack would have been nice.  But, these accessories are more than adequate for the figure.

The figure is cast in Major Bludd's signature brown color.  It has black and grey highlights with convention level paint details that tie this version to the previous versions of the character that collectors consider to be iconic.  It does add, though, some red highlights.  On the surface, these aren't bad.  One of the traits of Major Bludd is that his color scheme doesn't really integrate with other Cobra factions.  As an independent mercenary, though, this actually works.  But, if you want to make Bludd the leader of a Cobra platoon, you end up with some contrasting colors.  In this case, though, the red coloring closely matches that of the 2005 Convention Iron Grenadiers.  (That is likely a byproduct of the same group producing both figures and having reusing unique paint colors.)  So, this figure can be matched with figures from the 2005 Iron Grenadier set without too much trouble.  The main problem with this is that Destro was hardly a Major Bludd fan.  So, teaming Bludd with Destro's personal troops doesn't really fit into the Joe mythos.

Fortunately, Master Collector included a small subset of troopers for Major Bludd to command in this convention set.  Major Bludd's Skull Squad Troopers are actually a very nice complement to this figure.  Cast in brown and using parts from Avalanche and the Crimson Guard figures, the Skull Squad Troopers appear to be a decent force for Bludd to command.  Bludd even features a new logo emblazoned on his arm to denote this new faction to the Cobra hierarchy.  Personally, I'm not too high on the addition of new subsets to Cobra or Joe as there are already plenty.  But, when the figures are good and make sense, then they can be decent additions to a collection.  And, in this instance of Bludd and his troopers, that is very much the case.

In my collection, this version of Bludd is solely the leader of the Skull Squad Troopers.  He isn't Major Bludd from issue #17 of the comic.  Nor is the Major Bludd who freed the Flying Scorpion in an effort to gain influence in the new Cobra.  This Bludd is the evolution of a mercenary for hire. Now, instead of doing all the dirty work himself, he has a team of like minded individuals at his beck and call.  These troopers allow Bludd to take on more complex missions while retaining a level of trust in his work companions that was rarely found inside the confines of the politically complicated Cobra.  It is a more niche role for Bludd.  But, this is very much a niche figure.  (Convention figures by their nature tend to be.)  It is a nice thing to have around for some diversity.  But this is not an essential figure to the Cobra hierarchy as there are better Bludd figures for that purpose.

There was a time when the named characters from Convention sets commanded premium prices.  But, those days appear to be past.  Now, figures like this Major Bludd can be had for next to nothing.  Often, mint and complete versions don't break $15.  Considering they cost about that to acquire new, it's not a bad time to add one to your collection.  Personally, I don't consider this the best version of Major Bludd.  But, it is something different for the characters that offers a little more color that can be integrated into more Cobra factions.  Taken with his Skull Squad Troopers, this figure is something that really works since the vintage Bludd figures aren't as good of a match.  Considering how cheap this figure and his subordinates are now, they are something that I would recommend to any collector.

2006 Convention Exclusive Major Bludd

2006 Convention Exclusive Major Bludd

Monday, October 15, 2012

Duke - Chinese Exclusive

Duke is an iconic Joe figure.  There is no denying his presence in either the comic or the cartoon.  He became a major player from his first introduction and has remained a mainstay in Joe lore ever since.  He can be a polarizing figure, though much of that has subsided in recent years.  But, he remains popular.  By far, though, his iconic look is the khaki and green V1 figure originally released in 1983.  It is Duke's most popular look and the one that instantly recalls the character.  The V1 figure, though, was largely an American character.  Internationally, Duke was less important.  He appeared in Action Force, Japan and, later, in Tiger Force colors in Brazil.  But, that was about the extent of his international excursions.  However, in the '90's, an Easter egg showed up in a small carded series of figures meant for the Chinese market.  Among this small subset of figures was a newly created version of V1 Duke.  The mold changes were not nearly as significant as those to other figures in the set.  But, they are enough to warrant a profile of the Chinese Exclusive Duke figure.

The V1 Duke mold is a combination of early Hasbro coupled with the peak years of Joe design.  At his core, Duke's genius is the simplicity.  Unlike many of the 1983 figures, Duke follows the basic design of the original 13 Joes.  He has a basic military uniform in colors that befit the purpose.  He is not outlandish like Gung Ho nor environmentally themed like Snow Job.  He is just basic.  But, Duke goes to another level beyond the original Joes.  He features more detail on his shirt, down to the golden eagle on his chest.  The bandolier is better sculpted and his leg holster is better defined.  In short, Duke is the logical evolution of the original Joes.  By 1984, he was somewhat basic as opposed to his contemporaries.  But, he fit so well with the collection that you still could not dismiss him.

For accessories, both the original Duke and this Chinese version are well equipped.  However, Duke had the distinction of reusing most of his accouterments from earlier figures.  His machine gun is a version of the V1 Stalker's classic M-32, only cast in the standard 1984 green.  His helmet is a rehash of the original from 1982.  His backpack is a hybrid.  The design is the same as that from Airborne.  But, Duke's version was lacking the cross design in the back.  From the outside, it appeared the same mold.  But, it was new.  (It is also a different color, so don't get fooled on that.)  Duke's only original accessory is the binoculars.  This is a great example of how Hasbro could repackage some earlier parts from time to time to save money.  But, they used items like the different coloring and including something new enough that it kept the figure exciting.

The Chinese Duke really has two major differences from the American figure.  First, he uses the waist from the 1983 Cobra Officer rather than the original Duke waist.  The more noticeable deviance, though, are the arms.  The original Duke arms feature rolled up sleeves.  Near the end of the run, Hasbro lost the mold and switched the sleeves to a full length cuffed mold.  (This is the most that was used on the Japanese Duke from Takara.  But, some were also released in the US.)  This Chinese figure, though, features a third arm construct: this time using the arm molds from Hit and Run.  Really, the result is mostly the same figure as the American version.  But, with enough differences to make it worthy of an international variant distinction.

The Chinese figures are very odd.  Released around 1993 or 1994, they featured a great assortment of classic Joe molds, newer versions of classic characters and two completely newly amalgamated figures.  They were made by Hasbro in the same factories as U.S. Joes.  So, the quality of the figures, accessories and cardbacks are the same.  Some Chinese figures are harder to find than others, but all are basically available.  The real question is why were 2 unique figures made by Hasbro for this market?  It has always seemed odd to me that Hasbro would have gone to the lengths they did to make Flint and Major Bludd.  Were these 2 figures that were planned for either a late 1994 or early 1995 release and were far enough along in the process that Hasbro just released them into whatever distribution method they had available?  Were they just anomalies where Hasbro designers got to quickly match up figure parts to fill an order?  At this point, we don't know.  But, the 2 figures are an insight into the oddities that surrounded Joe's final years.

The Chinese figures also pose another problem.  If you look at the figures released in the series, most of the molds returned in the 1997 - 2004 timeframe as comic pack, TRU or full retail release figures.  There is one glaring omission and that is the V1 Cobra Commander.  The mold was used in the Chinese Joe exclusives but then "lost" and never seen again.  How would such an important mold be the only one of the Chinese figures to disappear?  Again, another mystery.  But, even the Duke released in 1997, just three years after this version, used different parts.  So, maybe some of the molds were lost or damaged.  But, it is curious that the most popular mold from the Chinese figures is the one that disappeared.

As a character, there is no ignoring Duke.  I figure acquired the American figure as a mail away in January of 1984.  I was sorely disappointed just a few weeks later to find the first 1984 carded figure hanging in Kohls store was the Duke I had gotten via the mail.  Regardless, Duke quickly became a valuable part of my collection.  Duke's filecard mentioned his flight training and he quickly found himself as the co-pilot of the Dragonfly or manning the second seat in the Skystriker.  I didn't see Duke as the leader of my Joes as much as a new recruit who was highly trained.  By the summer of 1984, that had changed and Duke took more of a leadership role in my collection.  But, even this was short lived.  By 1985, Flint had arrived and taken over Duke's slot as the combat leader of my Joes.  By this time, I had three or four Duke's in my collection (my brother's had also gotten mail away figures) and they quickly became custom fodder for other figures in my collection.

Today, though, Duke has a greater role.  As my collection is mostly limited to figures from 1986 and earlier, Duke has a more prominent place.  Having this Chinese version allows me to have multiple Dukes around without having redundant figures.  It's a small difference: having a foreign figure nearly identical to the American versus having 2 American figures.  But, it is an area of collecting I appreciate.  So, figures like this Chinese Duke take on greater importance than they would otherwise have.

All of the Chinese carded figures are rather easy to find.  Huge quantities of them were available at American discount stores in the mid '90's and most of them remained carded as they were snatched up by enterprising dealers and collectors.  On top of that, loose Chinese Dukes turned up en masse in Asia in the mid 2000's.  So, tons of loose figures were loaded into the market.  As such, loose figures are cheap, though most of the stock has been absorbed and they are tougher to find than they used to be.  Carded Chinese Dukes, though, do get somewhat pricey.  Since it is, essentially, the V1 Duke on a card with his original artwork and original accessories, collectors have taken to the figure more so than even the Chinese exclusive figures.  But, if you want a pristine mint version of Duke and don't want to spend a ton of money, the Chinese version is a great alternative.  Most collectors wouldn't be able to tell the difference in pictures.  So, it is a worthwhile acquisition from that standpoint.  But, as an essential foreign figure, if you already have the V1 American Duke, this is a variant that can be skipped.  It doesn't offer much to a collection beyond filling out a roster.  But, for the price, that is an acceptable fate for a figure like this.

1994 Chinese Duke, V1, 1984, Fumaca, Ripcord, Brazil, Estrela, TNT, Argentina, Plastirama, Blowtorch, 1983 Dragonfly

Chinese Exclusive Duke, 1984, V1, JUMP, Jet Pack, Snake Eyes, 1983, 1982, Scarlett, Fuego, Ripcord, Argentina, Plastirama, Blades, Tripwire, Palitoy, Action Force, SAS, European Exclusive

Monday, October 1, 2012

1983 Flash

Recently, I was asked to rank the original 13 Joe figures in relation to each other.  One figure had to be best and one had to be the worst.  There were a string of criteria including accessories, mold, paint applications, etc.  I had to look through each figure as if it were 1982 and none of the future Joe figures were known to me.  The results were somewhat surprising to me.  In the end, it was Flash who had the highest score.  He had great, original accessories, intricate paint details that were vibrant, and a sculpt that was shared only with his clone, Grand Slam.  I had always liked Flash (Really, who doesn't?!?) but was amazed that he scored so highly against the rest of his rookie G.I. Joe class.  But, as I look at the figure again, it is obvious that this is a design of amazing quality and a figure well worth a lofty place in the line's history.

As a kid in 1982, Flash was one of the Joes that everyone wanted the most.  His specialty and look lent himself to popularity among kids who were largely playing with Star Wars figures at the time.  The animation in the commercials at the time showed the rifle cutting through steel doors like butter.  It was a great image and one that made Flash much more dangerous than any real world laser weapon of the time.  But, for some reason, Flash was one of the few original Joe figures who eluded me.  We had nearly every figure in our collection by the end of 1982, but Flash and Steeler were both missing.  (We had 3 Snake Eyes figures between the 3 boys, but no Flash!)  As such, Flash was only part of my Joe world when I visited friends who had one.

Around 1986, though, a high quality Flash figure came into my collection.  I don't recall where it came from, but it showed up one day with just the helmet and visor.  It likely belonged to one of the kids in our neighborhood who left it at our house and never remembered to come retrieve it.  But, that addition sparked a new use for the figure.  I gave Flash the rifle from a spare Snow Job figure and made him the first of the Joe army builders in my collection.  Soon, Silver Pads Grand Slam joined him as a nameless, army building pilot who helmed the Sky Hawk.  In this capacity, Flash flourished.  His red pads were body armor that protected him against the Vipers of the day.  He could die over and over again, or save the day.  It was a perfect fit for a high quality mold.

Flash's hallmark are his accessories.  His highly detailed laser rifle plugs into his equally designed backpack.  (Though, in an anomaly, Flash's artwork always showed the rifle plugging into a tube on the pack rather than the pack itself.  It is a small detailed difference between the art and the figure.)  This accessory combination simply could not be separated.  Flash had to have the rifle and pack in order to be useful.  Add to this his visor, and really, Flash wasn't nearly the same figure missing even one of his accessories as if he had them all.  But, that was the model of the time.  Joes all featured weapons that were as distinct as their uniforms and code-names.  It added a level of depth to each character.  It also, at least to me, really allowed Joe to stand apart from the knock off military lines that proliferated in the years after Joe.  None could capture the combo of unique weapons, mold and paint like Joe and it really made them appear even more cheap than they were.)

The Flash mold was incredibly popular the world over.  After it's release in the US for both Flash and Grand Slam, it went to South American where exclusive Flash figures were produced by Plastirama, Auriken and Estrela in Argentina, Mexico and Brazil respectively.  In Brazil, the mold was also used for the exclusive Cobra De Aco figure.  Flash was also slated for release in the Europe as part of the Action Force line.  A sample of this figure actually exists in the collecting community.  But, the figure was never actually released and a loose version is one of the rarest figures in the line.  Hasbro wanted to bring the mold back in 1997 in the Stars and Stripes set, but the mold was lost.  As such, collectors were never treated to remade Flash figures during the resurgence of Joe that began in 1997.  He remains one of the re-paint line's greatest omissions.  Hasbro could easily have milked many repaints from the mold for Flash, Grand Slam and Cobra De Aco.  Considering that Hasbro remade molds for Lady Jaye, Cobra Trooper, Mutt and others that they only used once, skipping Flash just doesn't compute.  But, it does leave this original figure as a lone wolf among Joe's original 13 members.

Flash figures can be pricey.  Mint and complete versions can go as high as $22 - $25 each.  But, you can also get them in the $15 range with a little patience.  For that price and considering that this figure is 30 years old, Flash is a pretty good buy.  He works with figures from other years, has a distinct look and is a character that hasn't been done to death.  As such, I wouldn't consider any collection complete without one.  I consider Flash to be an essential figure, even if the notion of a steel cutting laser mounted to his back is still a bit far fetched.  But, that willing suspension of disbelief is what made Joe so popular during its heyday and is a strong reason as to why collectors still flock to the line today.

1983 Flash, Laser Trooper, 1984 Clutch, Steeler, Thunder, APC

1983 Flash, Laser Trooper, 1997 Stalker, Snake Eyes

1983 Flash, Laser Trooper, Stalker, 1984 Mutt, 2002 Night Rhino

1983 Flash, Laser Trooper, Stalker, 1984 Mutt, 2002 Night Rhino

Monday, September 24, 2012

1988 Spearhead

There were many times during my childhood where I would review the cardback of a figure to see what else was coming out that year.  There were always some figures whose artwork made them look extremely cool.  But, once you saw the actual figure in the package, it was obvious that the mold and paint did not live up to the artwork.  One such figure is the 1988 Spearhead.  His card art makes him look menacing and cool.  He has a unique shape, stylish helmet and an amazing weapon.  The figure, though, is awkward, bulky and oddly colored.  The result is a figure that should be better than he actually is.

I've said may times before that I didn't really collect Joes in 1988.  My younger brothers, though, still did.  As such, we still had a good portion of the 1988 line in our home, it just did not belong to me.  Spearhead, though, was not one of those figures.  No one in my family ever owned him.  We did, though, have one of his guns.  Somehow, a Spearhead rifle appeared in our home at some point in 1988.  One of my brothers' friends likely left it behind.  I saw this weapon and was intrigued.  It was large, detailed and unlike anything else from my collecting experience.  It slowly made it's way through a few figures until it ultimately ended up in a bag of random weapons that survived into my adult collection.

As a collector, though, I had to find the figure with which this weapon was included.  When I found Spearhead, I remembered the artwork and thought he would be a great addition to my neophyte collection.  I acquired one in the late '90's and was immediately disappointed in the mold.  The figure's torso is too large, his neck is too long and the tan and orange coloring just doesn't work.

Through the past decade, I have taken thousands of pictures of Joe figures.  In most of the photos, there are random figures dispersed throughout the scene to bring depth, action, interest, etc.  Through time, I have managed to capture just about every figure in some form or another.  Usually, those who I have left out have either been because I didn't own the figure or because the figures were generally useless (Manimals and Armor Tech Star Brigade.)  However, in searching my photos, I never see Spearhead.  I occasionally see the Funskool version poking around in the background.  But, the original, American figure just never made his way into any scenes.

Spearhead's greatest claim to fame is his included bobcat: Max.  There were a few Joes who included animal companions.  Junkyard and Order made sense and dogs are a vital part of all law enforcement and military organizations.  Polly worked since a sailor and parrot made as much sense as anything else.  Timber worked because a mystic like Snake Eyes could surely tame a wild wolf.  But, what about Spearhead got him to bond with a bobcat?  A bobcat is really a rather random animal companion.  I guess it sounded cool that this guy had the feral cat as his combat companion.  But, it's probably the least plausible of any animals up to that time.  (Even Voltar's vulture was more credible.)

The Spearhead mold has actually gotten fairly good use: it's just not overly diverse.  The mold was used for this original figure in 1988 and then a Night Force version in 1989.  From there, the mold went to Brazil where Estrela released it as Baioneta.  This figure is nearly identical to the version 1 Spearhead.  After that, the mold appeared in India.  Funskool released a Spearhead figure that is based upon the Night Force version.  It is an excellent version of Spearhead and much cheaper alternative to the Night Force version from the US.  Funskool also used various parts of the molds for the Street Hawk figure that was released in India for a number of years.

Spearhead figures are not difficult to find.  Nor are they expensive.  Mint and complete with filecard figures range from $8 to $12.  For that price, there's no reason to let this figure remain unacquired.  But, thinking that you will get a ton of use for Spearhead is likely a stretch.  I have found him to be nothing more than a filler in my collection.  He is OK, but nothing special enough to warrant use.

1988 Spearhead and Max

1988 Spearhead and Max

Monday, September 17, 2012

Albatroz - Brazilian Exclusive Sky Patrol

The Joe community goes in cycles of popularity.  A few years ago, European exclusive Joes were all the rage.  Availability was low, prices were extremely high and collectors were crawling over each other to acquire just a few samples of toys unique to Europe.  During that time, Joes made by Plastirama from Argentina were quietly being absorbed into the collecting world by those who realized the great supply and low prices were finite.  Similarly, Estrela made Joes from Brazil were readily available and very cheap.  Savvy collectors bought them up and completed large portions of their foreign collections.  Now, the tables have turned.  European Joes have plummeted in price in recent years (Don't get me wrong, they're still pricey, but lower than they were a few years ago.) while availability has increased.  Joes from South America, though, have seen their popularity skyrocket right as the supply has gotten tighter.  The result is that many Joes from Argentina and Brazil have gotten very hard to find and exorbitantly expensive, especially when you compare them to just 5 or 6 years ago.  Such is the case of the Albatroz figure.  Once a step-brother to the highly desirable Patrulha Do Ar Cobra figures, Albatroz has become not only very desirable for collectors to own, but also very expensive to acquire.

The Brazilian Patruhla do Ar is probably the single most popular subset in the Estrela series of Joes.  It has several things going for it:

1.  It is a small, late issue set with only 4 figures released around 1994.
2.  Sky Patrol is one of the most popular American subsets
3.  Each figure features not only unique colors, but unique construction from any American figure
4.  All of the figures feature distinct names that are relatively easy to recall
5.  The set features 2 of the most distinctive and famous exclusive Cobras in all the world

As such, collectors often use this small series of figures as their first foray into Brazilian Joes.  Abutre Negro and the Escorpiao Voador are usually the figures first sought by collectors.  They are great additions to a Cobra collection and work both within and outside of the Sky Patrol theme.  Albatroz and Aguia Comando are usually then sought to complete the set.  Both figures feature stark colors, strong molds and good accessories.  They would fit right in with the American Sky Patrol or as stand-alone characters grouped with other foreign exclusives.

Albatroz is actually brighter than he often appears in photos.  The figure is a mish-mash of orange, maroon, silver and grey.  But, it all actually comes together in a nice package that makes the figure usable.  The orange is a bit loud.  He's not as bright as the Star Brigade Roadblock, but isn't quite a subtle pumpkin color, either.  The overall result is a figure that blends with vehicles like the Tomahawk, but would be out of place in the Skystriker.

Albatroz includes a helmet, backpack, parachute as well as a black version of Blaster's pistol and the Alley Viper's gun.  It is odd to see a Joe with such a Cobra centric weapon.  But, it works with the figure.  The real failure of Albatroz, though, is the helmet.  On the surface, the silver version of Maverick's helmet on Maverick's head should be perfect.  The helmet looks like it would work for a paratrooper.  Albatroz also features the high collar of Sneak Peek.  If the helmet fit over the collar, the figure would be almost perfect.  But, the helmet does not fit.  As such, Albatroz can not wear his helmet at all!  It sits about half way down his head before the bottom of the helmet is block by the top of the collar.  You can see it in a photo below.  The helmet simply doesn't work.  If Albatroz is holding it, is does look really nice.  But, not being able to wear the helmet almost renders the figure moot.  It is a glaring deficiency on an otherwise solid figure.

For me, Albatroz is an interesting figure.  He lacks any characterization, so he has great potential.  He can be used as an alternate Maverick.  But, let's face it, Maverick didn't have much characterization, either.  He can be a new member of Sky Patrol, but that also leaves you a lot of leeway in defining him.  So, for those who enjoy having characters of their creation in the collection, Albatroz is a perfectly blank slate.  However, I have yet to really do anything with the character.  While I created long backstories for the Brazilian Sky Patrol Cobras, I never had the same interest in the Joes.  As such, Albatroz remains just a background characters in my collection.  He looks cool on display, but I don't see him as a major player in way beyond that.

Albatroz translates as Albatross in English.  The Albatross is one of the most superstition laden birds in all the world.  Coleridge's Ancient Mariner set the tone for future sailors to not even heed the name of the bird.  As such, it seems an odd code name for a Joe.  Being a member of an organization that undertakes the most dangerous military missions in the world should be enough of a risk that tempting supernatural spirits with a cursed name would be hyperbolic overkill.  But, maybe Albatroz likes to tempt fate.  Anyone who jumps out of planes into enemy fire for a living probably has to feel an aura of invincibility anyways.  So, things like old sailor's fears would seem inconsequential.  This might be the most interesting aspect of the Albatroz character and the trait I would delve into should I ever look to build his character.

In terms of quality, the Estrela figures from this time period are definitely more brittle than a vintage American figure.  The plastic feels lighter and more fragile...but only slightly so.  If you were going to give this figure to a child, it would probably be broken only slightly faster than a vintage US Joe.  From a collector standpoint, though, the brittleness is likely of small concern since the figure would only be displayed or stored away.  This is the first Brazilian figure I've owned, though, that did not feature degradation of the helmet plastic.  All of the prior Estrela figures I've owned that have included helmets had issues with the helmet plastic "weeping" as it broke down.  My Albatroz does not have this issue, though.  I don't know if it's a result of better storage in it's life prior to calling my collection home, the silver plastic used to make the helmet or just dumb luck.  But, for now, this helmet is the best of the Brazilian headpieces I have possessed.

10 to 12 years ago, you could all of the Patruhla do Ar figures carded for under $40 each.  But, times have changed.  The subset is among the most desired of all foreign Joe subsets and collectors are desperate to acquire each and all of the figures.  Today, loose mint and complete with cardback Albatroz figures sell as high as $170.  Carded, the figures can go upwards of $300 each.  Really, those are prices that make this figure more expensive than most figures in the world.  Sure, he's cool.  But, likely not worth those kind of asking sums.  If you're looking for an Albatroz, though, it takes a good bit of time.  During the Cobra crazed heyday of the early to mid 2000's, many collectors sought out and acquired the Flying Scorpion and Black Vulture figures.  Years later, they are going back to complete the set and finding the Joes to be much more difficult to track down.  This explains the high prices, but does not, necessarily, make the figure one of the most desirable of all time.  Personally, I had the figure for years and am happy he's part of my collection.  But, I'm not sure I would pay the current prices to own him.

Albatroz, Brazil, Estrela, Sky Patrol, Patrulha Do Ar, European Exclusive Tiger Force Tunnel Rat

Albatroz, Brazil, Estrela, Sky Patrol, Patrulha Do Ar,

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

1988 Hit and Run

In 1988, I was basically done with Joes.  I had purchased just about every 1987 figure and had enjoyed them through the first part of the year.  But, in the fall of 1987, I entered 8th Grade and Joes became a thing of the past for me.  As 1987 wound down, I moved out of my old room that was filled with my toys and into a new, larger, more private space.  My Joes did not make the move with me.  Even as my interest in Joes diminished, I found that old habits died hard.  As such, in very early 1988, I purchased the last of my youthful Joe toys: Hardball, Tiger Force Roadblock and Hit and Run.  Each had something specific about him that compelled the purchase.  Hardball was a baseball player and I was hooked on baseball at the time.  Roadblock was an update to a childhood favorite and a great way to finally get an unbroken gun in my collection.  Hit and Run, though had everything I looked for in a figure: great militaristic colors, amazing accessories and a solid mold.  There was no way I could not buy him.  As such, Hit and Run became one of the final 3 G.I. Joe figures I purchased in what I would call the "childhood" phase of my collecting life.

Hit and Run had a short life in my collection.  I had only owned him a few weeks before he went on a trip to Dayton, Ohio with me.  There, in my grandparents' backyard, Hit and Run disappeared on me.  My grandparents had a great backyard for playing with action figures.  It had 2 limestone walls that were covered in ivy with gardens above and below them.  It was a perfect place for hiding Joes...especially those with ropes who could scale the walls.  Hit and Run was perfect for this.  I had him climbing the walls, hidden in the ivy, to sneak up on Cobra.  However, when I went inside, the figure was so well blended with the green ivy that I didn't see him.  As such, Hit and Run hung on that wall, hidden in ivy, until the fall of that year.  I then retrieved him.  But, by then, I was in high school.  So, Hit and Run went into a box and stayed there for years.

As an adult collector, though, Hit and Run became a favorite, again.  The mold and coloring were just too good to overlook.  Even though I had a well conditioned, complete Hit and Run from childhood, I found myself acquiring multiple, additional Hit and Run figures in my early days of adult Joe collecting.  I had him posed on the Whale, in the HQ and among other, similarly cool figures.  He fits well with figures from all years of the line.  While I have long stated that green figures are boring, that statement applies only when the basic military colors are overused.  When every figure looks the same, the line suffers.  As the vintage joe line was very diverse in terms of colors and designs, figures like Hit and Run stand out.  At his core, the figure is green and black.  That's it.  There are some subtle differences in the greens and the whites of his eyes are painted.  But, the basic figure is a solid core color with a single paint mask over it.  In the modern line, this would reek of laziness.  But, in the vintage line where he was surrounded by a diverse contemporary force, Hit and Run's simplicity makes him stand out.

The standard colors work so well together and were seen so seldom in the '80's that the figures who do use them became iconic.  Plus, Hit and Run's accessories are an extension of his character.  The hallmark of the vintage line was that figure and accessories were perfectly paired to create a character.  You can see this with Hit and Run.  Hit and Run's accessories were just about perfect.  He featured the light machine gun that was aesthetically pleasing, but also practical for his specialty.  Instead of a backpack, Hit and Run included a duffel bag with a working knife holster on the side.  This fit around his torso and had a rope wound inside it.  The rope slotted through the end of the bad and was attached to a grappling hook.  This feature was a substantial improvement over the accessories originally included with Alpine.  Hit and Run's waist also has a molded tab through which the rope could be threaded so that Hit and Run could use the rope in a real rappelling type motion.  It was that type of little detail that helped take something that could have been boring and turned it into one of the best figures in the line's history.

The Hit and Run mold had a short life.  It was used for the US figure and then repainted as the European exclusive Tiger Force Hit and Run.  After that, the mold went down to Brazil where most of it was used by Estrela to make Alpinista.  (Which is very similar to the American figure in terms of coloring.)  Both the Euro and Brazilian figures have the distinction of featuring Hit and Run's face in flesh tone rather than green paint.  It is a different look for the figure and gives collectors an alternative for the Hit and Run character.  Hit and Run's arms were ultimately used for various Duke variants that were available in certain parts of the world.  The mold seems to have died in Brazil and collectors were never treated to a modern remake of this character.

Hit and Run's can be surprisingly expensive.  Mint, loose and complete, the figure can go as his as $20.  With a little patience, though, they can be had for $15 or so without too much trouble.  (Watch the elbows of the figure, though, as they are very prone to discoloration.)  An exclusive Hit and Run was released to Target stores in the early 1990's.  This figure was identical to the retail figure, but included a parachute pack.  (This pack was available for years as a mail away.)  The real differentiator is the yellow file card.  Collectors will pay upwards of $20 for the Target filecard.  So, that can raise the price of a loose figure.  For me, Hit and Run remains one of the best figures released in the vintage line.  He is a perfect blend of colors, mold and accessories.  So, he's worth adding to a collection for about any price.

1988 Hit and Run, 2002 Night Rhino, TRU Exclusive

1988 Hit and Run, 1985 Snake Eyes, V2

1997 Alley Viper

It's hard to believe, but, in 1997, collectors hated this version of the Alley Viper.  Outright loathed it.  Many people resorted to selling them for nothing or even giving them away for free.  They despised the mold, the colors and the accessories.  It's amazing how time changes perspective on things.  Today, this is one of the most popular Alley Viper repaints.  The relative scarcity of the figure combined with the quality has put it among the collector favorite army builder figures.  The Cobra blue is unique to this version and leaves this Alley Viper as the best figure to integrate into classic Cobra ranks.

Alley Vipers are the urban backbone of the Cobra Army.  Their heavy armor, decent weapons and menacing helmets make for a frightening enemy.  The 1989 version, though, suffered from a gaudy orange and blue color combination.  The 1993 update grounded the character in a bright yellow base.  It was not until 1997 that the Alley Viper appeared in a color that was true to Cobra's roots.  The dark blue is easily integrated with more classic Cobra characters.  However, the figure is not without faults.  Notably, the white cammo splotches that dot the figure's uniform are not a perfect combo for the deep blue.  Aesthetically, the figure is pleasing.  But, it is still not perfect.

In my collection, the Alley Vipers remain the third most important Cobra army builder behind the original blue Troopers and the Crimson Guards.  Beyond those classics, Alley Vipers are the next most common specialty in my Cobra ranks.  It never made much sense to me for Cobra to have a standing army that was capable of holding ground against the military of even a small nation.  Instead, it would seem more prudent for Cobra to have small, highly mobile and extremely deadly strike forces that were capable of rapidly dispatching a small portion of any urban setting.  The objectives are smaller and more attainable and Cobra wouldn't need thousands of men waiting around for a mission.

This figure has quite fragile paint applications.  It uses gold paint for many of the highlights on the body mold.  Gold paint is notoriously easy to rub off on vintage figures.  But, the combo of the paint along with the softer plastic of the 1997's is a recipe for disaster.  Hasbro chose to use the most fragile paint on the protruding parts of the mold that are the most susceptible to disintegration.  Many Alley Vipers had paint wear right out of the box.  As such, finding a truly mint version of the figure can be extremely difficult.

This version of the Alley Viper was the first to use the parts combination of the 1993 Alley Viper chest, waist, arms and head and Duke's legs.  For whatever reason, this design didn't click with collectors.  Even into 2003, the use of Duke's legs were a constant complaint.  Personally, I don't have much issue with the construction of the figure.  The parts combination works well enough and the colors offset any mold deficiencies.  The figure includes a black face mask, a black version of the 1993 Alley Viper's shield and a black version of Dial Tone's gun.  It is likely that the Alley Viper's signature weapon mold was lost in Brazil.  So, Hasbro went with the Dial Tone weapon that had first appeared with the 1993 version.  It's not a great accessory with this figure.  But, since the original, more highly desired gun never made another appearance in a Hasbro release, the use of the Dial Tone weapon has become less distasteful in the past 15 years.

The Alley Viper was the included vehicle driver with the repainted Rage vehicle.  The Rage, in and of itself, is a great repaint of an obscure Cobra mold that most collectors at the time did not own.  But, this worked against it during its release period.  Collectors did not want cool repaints of toys from the later years.  They wanted items from '82-'85 and would settle for things released as late as 1987.  But, that was about as far as the collecting conscience went back then.  On top of the general collector dislike of the Rage and Alley Viper, they were rather pricey at retail.  Toys R Us sold these items for $17.99.  While that may not sound like much today, the reality is that in 1997, $20 at a toy show would get you a mint and complete vintage Stinger with Driver and leave you enough money to pick up a 1983 Cobra Soldier to ride shotgun.  So, when faced with buying up the retail item or vintage toys, you can see how most collectors would choose the latter.  The result was that the Rage didn't sell through all that quickly.  It lingered into 1998 in many places.  Eventually, the vehicles were sold through.  Though, many collectors reporting finding quantities of Rage's with the figure removed.

In the early 2000's, the army building craze really affected this version of the Alley Viper.  For a time, this figure was nearly impossible to acquire.  As such, prices rose ludicrously fast and, for a while, loose, mint and complete versions of this figure would sell for around $40 each.  Hasbro, though, kept pumping out repaint after repaint of the Alley Viper.  Eventually, these new versions took much of the steam from the 1997 version.  Today, many dealers still hold onto hope that this figure is worth a lot of money.  As such, you see many places offering the figure for $50 or more.  You'll notice, though, that these don't sell.  The reason is that demand for this figure has diminished drastically.  You can now purchase these Alley Vipers for $15-$17 each.  That is still a bit high, but much more in line with their quality and availability than the higher prices.  The figures are still not easy to find and it may take a month or two to track one down at the market price.  But, it can be done.  I've found this to be the best version of the Alley Viper that is available.  It's taken me more than a decade, but I've been able to get a nice squad of them together.  So, it can be done.  It just takes time.  But, in this case, it is very worth the investment.

1997 Alley Viper, Rage, Lobosiomem, Brazil, Estrela, Snake Eyes, Cobra Werewolf, Baroness, 1993 Detonator

1997 Alley Viper, Rage, Lobosiomem, Brazil, Estrela, Snake Eyes, Cobra Werewolf, Baroness, 1993 Detonator

Monday, August 20, 2012

1986 Sci Fi

1986 was a turning point for my childhood Joe collection.  In 1985, I had still spent a good amount of time playing very rough with my toys.  As such, most of the figures I acquired in early 1985 had considerable wear and lost accessories.  As '85 progressed, though, I began to take better and better care of my toys.  By 1986, I was very aware of play and paint wear.  I spent that year not only acquiring the newly released figures, but also upgrading my damaged '85's.  Fortunately, I was able to afford this through a lucrative grass cutting business that kept cash coming in from March through November.  This allowed me to not only upgrade my collection, but also buy up duplicates of figures that belonged to my younger brothers.  Usually, I left the figures I least wanted to them so that when they destroyed the figure, it was no real loss to me.  But, occasionally, a figure I originally dismissed would capture my attention and I would end up buying another version of the figure for me that I could keep nice.  Such was the case with Sci Fi.  Originally, his neon color was off-putting.  But, after we had him for a while, the figure grew on me and had to be added to my personal collection.

Let's face it, Sci Fi looks like Robo Cop colored in a horrendous neon green.  There isn't much to like about this figure, especially when you consider how out of place he looked in 1986.  At the time, I wanted to like Sci Fi, but couldn't warm to him.  It's not that he was bad.  It was just that the other 1986 figures were better.  However, as 1986 progressed, my Joe world took a turn to more science fiction as I integrated my remaining Star Wars vehicles into my Joe world.  With that Sci Fi became more interesting to my collection.  His color worked in the science fiction realm.  His specialty did as well.

While it made no sense for Sci Fi's weapon to behave like a Star Wars blaster, that's how I approached him.  Otherwise, the figure was of no use.  So, Sci Fi could bring tanks to a halt by melting their wheels, shoot down helicopters by chopping off the blades or burn through solid steel doors to break into a Cobra compound.  But, like many figures from this era in my collection, Sci Fi quickly wore out his welcome.  The laser was a fun thing to incorporate for a time.  But, got old and was too far removed from my core play pattern to remain a vital aspect of my Joeverse for very long.  So, slowly, Sci Fi found himself relegated to the chair of the G.I. Joe HQ or as a co-pilot of a Joe aircraft.  But, in this capacity, he found long life.  To this day, I often display Sci Fi in those same ways.  He is a staple of my Joe HQ.  For some reason, he just seems to fit into that role quite well.

For the first time in my years of reviewing Joe figures, I have a slightly different perspective: that of a father.  I now have sons of my own.  Reflecting upon my youthful experiences and the role that G.I. Joe toys played in them, though, has made me wonder about the childhood that my boys will experience over the next decade or so.  The days of walking into a toy store (for that matter, having more than one toy store to choose from!) and seeing a wall of your favorite toys all hanging there, begging to be purchased are long gone.  In my youth, every one of my classmates save for 1 played with G.I. Joe figures in some capacity.  It was a unifying presence.  When one boy brought the 1984 catalog into my third grade classroom, it was passed around to every male in the two separate classrooms for nearly a week.

These days, though, toys don't have that affect.  They are still a part of the childhood experience, but not nearly to the extent that they were in the '80's.  As such, it is unlikely that any toyline will ever again capture the imagination of a generation of kids like Joe did.  It has nothing to do with whether the line is innovative, realistic military, sci fi or fantasy inspired.  It has everything to do with changing habits of children.  A generation ago, kids playing with toys until they were 11 or 12 was common.  Now, those kids are glued to cell phones, tablets or other electronic devices.  A generation from now, they will be hooked on something else.  Toys will always have a place in the childhood experience.  But, action figure lines like Joe and Star Wars will always mean more to those who experienced them in their vintage days than they will to anyone who plays with them now.  The problem for a company like Hasbro is how do they keep a toy line going knowing that kids and collectors both are vital to any nostalgic line's success?  Collectors demand accessories, articulation and innovative design.  Parents demand a price point that is worth the fleeting moments of interest an action figure will bring to their child.

Those who followed the Marvel comic in the '80's were given a treat in 1985 when Marvel Age 33 previewed the 1986 G.I. Joe characters.  All of the favorites were there, even if the colors were a little off.  There are a few collector gems in there, though, such as the first appearance of Starduster when he was still named Hedge-Hopper.  Sci-Fi had a similar situation.  The character that appeared in that preview was not neon green, but blue and yellow.  And, in lieu of Sci Fi, sported the name Hot Spot.  Honestly, I don't know if Hot Spot is a better or worse name than Sci Fi.  But, it's a nice glimpse into the creative process that lead to finalized product.  The blue and yellow color was interesting, but I actually prefer the lime green.  For some reason, it seems more fitting for a laser trooper.

The Sci Fi mold was used for the American figure in 1986 and 1987.  From there, it was sent down to Brazil where Estrela released the figure in colors nearly identical to the American version.  Various parts, including the head, were then used for an exclusive character in the Brazilian Forca Eco subset.  There also exists, though, a mocked up version of Sci Fi that was referred to as "Translucent Joe".  This figure was sold as an unproduced concept by a dealer with close ties to the final days of the Joe line at Hasbro.  The Translucent figure used Sci Fi's mold.  But, it is unclear if this figure was intended to be Sci Fi, was an all new character, or was just a mock up using Sci Fi to prove a concept.  Regardless, it is an interesting footnote to Joe history and one of the rarer pieces of collectordom.

Sci Fi figures are neither difficult to find nor expensive.  While most collectors have a version, he is not a highly desired member of most collections.  As such, you can get them for under $7 most of the time.  You do have to be wary as the silver paint on the figure is very prone to wear.  The neon green plastic also tends to discolor quite a bit.  So, getting a fully mint sample may take more time than you would think.  But, it's still not hard to do.  For me, Sci Fi's value lies in the fact that he was part of my childhood collection.  For that reason, I appreciate the mold.  But, he is not a figure I conclude to be essential to any collection.  But, for the price, it makes no sense to pass him by.

1986 Sci Fi, Dial Tone